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Prenatal Pesticide Exposure Linked to Diminished IQ

Some Popular Fruits and Vegetables Contain Highest Levels

WASHINGTON - Arriving at stunningly similar conclusions, a trifecta of studies published today (April 21) have each shown a connection between prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides and diminished IQs in children between the ages of 6 and 9.

Researchers at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, University of California Berkeley’s School of Public Health and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health separately recruited pregnant women and tested either their urine during pregnancy or umbilical blood after birth. The Columbia researchers measure levels of the pesticide chlorpyrifos in cord blood samples, while the teamsfrom Berkeley and Mt. Sinai tested urine for metabolites of organophosphatepesticides.

All three studies are available for free and online at the Environmental Health Perspectives website.

Between 1999 and 2003, EPA put in place restrictions on the most toxic organophosphate pesticides on crops and in homes. In 2006 the Agency concluded those restrictions would be sufficient to protect children’s health, but these studies show further restrictions over the use of organophosphates in agriculture may be necessary to protect kid's health.

“For years, EPA used complex models to assure us that pesticide exposures were safe,” said Environmental Working Group senior scientist Sonya Lunder. “These studies strongly suggest that kids remain at risk. The next time EPA and the pesticide industry tell you all is well with the food system, don’t rush to believe them.”

“Organophosphates have been associated with learning delays and ADHD in children,” Lunder added. “But the fact that three separate studies arrived at such similar conclusions is overwhelming evidence that this family of pesticides presents profound and very serious health risks to children before they’re even born.”

Each year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture extensively tests fruits and vegetables for pesticide residues. The tests are conducted after each sample has been washed as if being prepared to eat or cook. Environmental Working Group (EWG) compiles USDA’s data and ranks the most popular fruits and vegetables according to the levels of overall pesticide residues. Here are the 12 with the highest and lowest levels of pesticide residues From EWG’ 2010 Shopper’s Guide. The 2011 Guide will be out soon once USDA releases its latest round of produce testing.

Highest levels                                                  Lowest levels

                        Celery                                                              Onions

                        Peaches                                                           Avocado

                        Strawberries                                                    Sweet Corn

                        Apples                                                              Pineapple

                        Blueberries                                                      Mangos

                        Nectarines                                                       Sweet Peas

                        Bell Peppers                                                   Asparagus

                        Spinach                                                           Kiwi

                        Cherries                                                           Cabbage

                        Kale/Collard Greens                                        Eggplant

                        Potatoes                                                           Cantaloupe

Grapes (imported)                                           Watermelon



Some tips to avoid or reduce exposure to organophosphate pesticides:

1. Organic produce is becoming much more available and the price gap between it and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables has narrowed somewhat, but buying organic can be a burden on families on tight budgets. EWG’s online Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides provides an easy-to-use list of non-organic items that have the lowest levels of pesticide residues. EWG recommends sticking to those fruits and vegetables whenever possible.

2. Wash, wash, wash: Washing conventional produce won’t remove all of the residues, but it does make a difference. Wash all fruits and vegetables before serving.

3. Eating fruits and vegetables is an essential part of a healthy diet, but werecommend women who are pregnant choose organic produce or conventional fruits and veggies with the lowest levels of pesticide residues.

4. Eat food that is in season.  It is more likely to be grown domestically where there are tighter restrictions on organophosphate pesticide use (as opposed to abroad).



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The mission of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment. EWG is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, founded in 1993 by Ken Cook and Richard Wiles.

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